Nothing makes a kid come down with a spontaneous 104-degree fever faster than hearing the words “guided tour.” So call these behind-the-scenes romps around fascinating New York points of interest something else: exclusive peeks, maybe? Insider secret missions? Classified excursions? Or just do what my wife and I do with our 11-year-old sons. Focus instead on the ice cream/sushi/pizza we promise to get them afterward. Because your kids actually will enjoy these informative (ack, don’t use the “i” word with your kids either!) walk-throughs, especially if they’re catered to their interests.
And even if they don’t, most of these tours are no more than an hour or so and provide a good excuse to get out of the house—and the cold.
Is your kid a budding diplomat?
TOUR THE UNITED NATIONS. Sit in the General Assembly Hall (where all of the 193 member states have labeled spots), visit the Security Council Chamber, and explore exhibitions on disarmament and human rights—all led by multilingual guides who can give you the inside scoop on international diplomats and peacekeeping processes. Children ages 5 and up are welcome on the general guided tour, but there’s also a separate U.N. Kids Tour for just 5-to-10-year-olds. (Kids under 5 are not allowed for “security reasons,” though it should take a cue from the European Parliament and allow parents with infants, don’t you think?) United Nations, East 46th Street and First Avenue; buy tickets here ($20 adult, $11 child, $13 teen/senior)
Promised treat: Frozen custards at Shake Shack.
OR TRY NEW YORK CITY HALL. Designed in the very early 1800s, City Hall is an architectural and historic gem. Even if your kids (ages 9 and up only) don’t care one whit about politics, just gazing up at the gilded ceilings and rotunda here is enough to hold their attention. You’ll see the Governors Room, the City Council Chamber, the City Hall Portrait Collection, and more. Group tours (10 to 20 people; reservations required) are offered on Monday and Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. and for individuals on Wednesday at noon and Thursday at 10 a.m. Definitely visit the nearby African Burial Ground Memorial afterward. New York City Hall, 11 Centre Street (in City Hall Park); free
Promised treat: Matcha roll cakes at Takahachi Bakery.
Do you have a young (and practicing!) musician?
TOUR CARNEGIE HALL. Learn about the incredible performers who have graced the stage over the past 125 years as you explore the landmarked building with no crowds; even if you’ve seen shows here before, walking through the empty auditorium is another experience altogether. You’ll also visit the Rose Museum, where more than 400 Carnegie Hall artifacts—think: photographs, concert programs, autographed posters, and other archival materials that likely only the most die-hard music-history buffs will truly appreciate—are on display. (We won’t tell anyone if you skip the museum and head to the gift shop next door instead.) Carnegie Hall, 57th Street and Seventh Avenue; $17 adult, $12 senior/student/child 12 or under
Promised treat: Cheesecake at Brooklyn Diner USA.
Do your kids have a flair for the dramatic?
TOUR DISNEY ON BROADWAY. Broadway Plus offers a private, customizable VIP tour of the New Amsterdam Theater, home to Aladdin and the headquarters of all Disney shows on Broadway. You’ll go onstage; play with props backstage; learn the ins and outs of putting on a Broadway musical; and even try on and take photos in actual Disney costumes, which, come on, is pretty cool. At $300 a person, this one is pricey, but the guides will really work with you to make sure it’s special. Of the many Theater District backstage tour companies, we’ve had the most fun with these guys. New Amsterdam Theater, 210 West 42nd Street (between Seventh and Eighth Avenues); available at 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. every day of the week except Thursday, and 11 a.m. on Monday, Tuesday, Friday, and Sunday; $300 per person
Promised treat: Nutella paninos at Piccolo Cafe.
Do your kids love sports?
TOUR YANKEE STADIUM. Head to the Bronx for a chance to sit in the Bombers’ dugout, which is exciting to do even if you’re a Mets (or heaven forbid, a Red Sox) fan. Can you see the chewing tobacco spit stains? Cleat footprints? Can you smell the sweat? Though the stadium folks don’t guarantee a dugout visit (if it’s being used by the team, you won’t see it), it’s typically a stop on the Classic Tour. Also included: a visit to the press box and the New York Yankees Museum, where you can see Babe Ruth’s 1922 bat; Mickey Mantle’s game-worn 1966 jersey; the jersey Derek Jeter wore for his 3,000th hit in 2011; and many World Series rings and trophies. (If you want to actually hold these items, the Yankees have a Hands on History program that runs $125 a person.) Yankees Stadium, 1 East 161st Street, Bronx; $18 adult, $16 senior/child 14 or under
Promised treat: Rotisserie chicken and cheesy mac at Beatstro, a Bronx hip hop–inspired restaurant just two stops away from the stadium on the 4 train.
OR TRY MADISON SQUARE GARDEN. Depending on what’s happening here on the day you visit, you might walk on the hardwood courts or feel the chill of the hockey rink. You could see a stage being built or a rehearsal taking place. You can check out the locker rooms (glamorous!) and/or backstage dressing rooms. No matter what is available for touring that day, though, the All Access Tour includes photo ops and a virtual reality experience of being at a Garden event. Madison Square Garden, 4 Pennsylvania Plaza; $33 adult, $28 senior/student/child 12 or under
Promised treat: Scallion pancakes and bulgogi at Koreatown’s Cho Dang Gol.
Do you have a little fashionista?
TOUR THE GARMENT DISTRICT. Stylish young things might enjoy this free two-hour walking tour of Manhattan’s historic fabric and fabrication neighborhood, led by industry veteran Michael Kaback. Kaback talks about pivotal moments in fashion history, including the advent of the sewing machine and mass production, the development of sizes, the invention of synthetic fibers, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, and more. But don’t worry, besides the fascinating history lesson, Kaback also brings groups to showrooms and factories, the Project Runway–famous store Mood Fabrics, and the Fashion Walk of Fame. Reserve a free tour spot by emailing MikesNYCTours@yahoo.com
Promised treat: Peanut butter cup macarons at Macaron Cafe.
Got a Hamilton fan in the family?
TOUR HAMILTON GRANGE. It’s closed as of this writing due to the government shutdown, but if our taxpayer-funded representatives should decide to get back to work (ahem), this is a great place to visit! Take a guided tour of the early-1800s period rooms inside the only home that Alexander Hamilton ever owned and where much of the country-founding drama unfolded. Get there on the early side to sign up for one of the first-come, first-served free tours at 10 a.m., 11 a.m, 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. 409 West 141st Street (at Hamilton Terrace); free
Promised treat: Grilled cheese and doughnut bites at The Grange.